Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Release date: November 16, 2018 (USA)
Directed by: David Yates
Screenplay by: J. K. Rowling
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, William Nadylam, Kevin Guthrie, Jude Law, Johnny Depp.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the second instalment in the Fantastic Beasts film series, and we continue where the first one ended. Grindelwald was being moved to Britain to be tried for his, well, crimes, but he manages to escape custody and flees to Paris, where he will gather more followers. Back in Britain, poor Newt Scamander can’t take a break with Dumbledore interrupting his care of magical creatures, and convincing him to go to Paris and see what’s up with a loose end from the last movie.
For a movie called Fantastic Beasts, there weren’t many of those. But the few moments we had solely dedicated to them were visually stunning. And while the niffler and the bowtruckle returned, only the first one actually helped advance the plot.
For a movie subtitled The Crimes of Grindelwald, we didn’t actually see him committing any big crimes besides escaping prison and that magical battle near the end of the film. The biggest crime there is Johnny Depp’s lack of British accent.
Talking about Johnny Depp, good news! He’s better here than he has have been in ages, but considering he had been mediocre lately, that’s not saying much. But you have to give him credit for depicting a Grindelwald who was creepy in subtle ways, who also had flashes of twisted kindness, as well as a populist vibe. That said, his line about Paris was pure “Johnny Depp caricature character”, but it made some people on the audience chuckle.
Now Jude Law was very charming and even fun, but not quite Dumbledore. He didn’t act quite the part in his most whimsical moments, nor in his more serious ones. While this Dumbledore is much younger man than the one we know in the Harry Potter series, the eccentricities we know him for aren’t present here. He’s still pretty good at manipulating younger men to do his job though!
As for the depiction of the relationship between these two powerful wizards… well, there’s some subtext: one scene with the Mirror of Erised that established their early bond as young men, as well as some words Dumbledore threw at the Minister of Magic about how they used to be more than brothers.
Eddie Redmayne, while still awkward and good-hearted, didn’t have enough time to shine as Newt Scamander. Too many characters with “plot relevance”, you see. Still, the core of drama here it’s whether Newt will join the fight against Grindelwald or just remain in the sidelines, ignoring everything but his magical creatures. Both Dumbledore and his brother, the auror Theseus Scamander (Turner), try to make him realize he can’t remain neutral.
In the end, it’s Zoë Kravitz’s Leta Lestrange the one who will turn the tides in his final decision. Kravitz was amazing here, even if the reveal of an important plot regarding her and Credence Barebone (Miller) is so unnecessarily convoluted it seemed they took it out of a telenovela. That said, that flashback Hogwarts scene was, ahem, magical; and the kids chosen for young Newt and Leta were amazing!
Credence (Miller) was a disappointment since he was basically a Macguffin, but considering the situation of the character at the end of the movie, he should have a better role in the next sequel. Then there’s Claudia Kim’s Nagini, who, for all the controversy surrounding her presence in the film, had very little to do.
Finally, returning characters Tina Goldstein (Waterston), Queenie Goldstein (Sudol) and Jacob Kowalski (Fogler) meet expectations, even if I don’t agree to what they did to Queenie.
Maybe it’s because of the huge cast, but it seems we barely knew the characters except for their usefulness to advance the plot, to be sources of info dump, or to be fanservice. There was so much new information, that with proper development, they could make a mini-series out of it. Yes, it was all very interesting, even if the narrative was all over the place.
Obviously, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is visually stunning. The magic depicted is beautiful and entertaining. That opening sequel and the magical battle at the end were worth many of the problems this movie has. And of course the soundtrack is lovely, with James Newton Howard returning to make good use of the Harry Potter soundtrack as the basis of something more adult and tense, but still magical.
That said, J.K. Rowling should have written this movie as a book first, and let an actual screenwriter do the job of adapting it for the film. Or you know, have a co-writer for the script! “Tell, don’t show” may work in books, but not so much in movies. Also, J.K. Rowling has totally rectconned one character for fan service purposes, and added new and not totally convincing stuff to the backstory of another. Of course that last one could simply be Grindelwald lying his ass off.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald sure will make for interesting conversation among fans. One even started as soon as the screening ended.